The Alleged Farm News – 7 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Cabbage, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Onions, Pepper, New Mex and Poblano hot peppers, Potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes


I have been searching for a farm mascot ever since our huge pet pig, Mickey Boy, died. Well, pet may not be quite the right word. It suggests some sort of meaningful relationship between us. As far as I know Mickey Boy only had three meaningful relationships in his decade-long life: with a white hen, a feral kitten and food.

Though they had all been born and raised together, our other chickens at the time held a grudge against the white hen. She seemed unobjectionable to me, but the ways of chickens are mysterious. Maybe there was a condescending tone to her cluck. Maybe her religious views aroused their ire. Maybe they just didn’t like white. Whatever the reason, they attacked her constantly and viciously, to the point of nearly killing her. I tended her wounds at set her free, and she went and lived happily in the pigpen with Mickey Boy. It is hard to say precisely what they meant to each other, this somewhat scrawny, abused hen and this remarkably hefty boar. But they appeared at the least to abide one another, two grumpy loners hanging out together. Or hanging out, anyway, until the hen disappeared one day. Some predator probably got her, though there is a small change Mickey Boy at her.

As for the kitten, it was just another of the numerous strays around the farm, many of them born in our barns. Our neighbor was feeding a large herd of feral cats in her old milking parlor–I guess when you grow up on a dairy farm you feel like you have to keep a herd of something–and consequently we had a lot of cats wandering around the farm. We have taken in a few of the friendlier ones over the years, but we had a full compliment of cats when this kitten showed up in the pig pen. I made sure it had some food, but otherwise left it to fend for itself. I guess Mickey Boy took pity on it. Though don’t get too cute an image. It is not like he let the kitten ride around on his back. Mostly he ignored it, which for him counted as friendly, and he did seem to take some care not to step or lie on it, which for him counted as downright affectionate.

As for actual, visible excitement and pleasure, Mickey Boy reserved that for food. Not all food, it should be noted. Pigs have a reputation for eating somewhat indiscriminately, but it is undeserved. When they like something they will go at it enthusiastically, it is true, but they don’t like everything. Mickey Boy loved tomatoes and melons. He would not touch peppers and celery. You could throw a huge tub of mixed vegetable scraps into his pen and he would, surprisingly delicately, pick out what he wanted and leave behind the undesirable produce untouched.

As for the people who supplied him with his food, he seemed not to give a damn one way or the other. Which, some would say, made him just like a cat. But cats actively scorn and ignore us in order to remind us of our place in the world. Mickey Boy really did not care. We had no place at all in his world. Our entire species could have been wiped off the planet and as long as something made sure he got his dinner he would not have spent a moment regretting our disappearance. An attitude that, I think, ruled him out as a pet. But he did live on the farm and he was notable, so I just thought of him as our mascot, which somehow sort of justified the effort to house and feed him and haul buckets of water of for him all winter.

Once you have had a mascot, you cannot really just give up on the concept. I suppose, like Yale with its bulldogs or Navy with its goats, we could have tried to find a suitable replacement to fill the roll, a Mickey Boy II. But I doubt he could be easily replaced. A smaller pig, even one with the same markings, would not have done. Plus, having spent a decade tending to a huge, grumpy hog, we were not immediately inclined to do it again. But who could replace him? There are the donkeys, but somehow they just don’t seem up to the task. We had an eggplant that looked like Nixon and a potato that looked like a bear, but in the end they were more curios than mascots. We might, in this post modern world, have gone something ironic, such as a deer or flea beetle or perhaps just a huge pig weed. But I like the hipster credentials to pull off that kind of irony. There is, of course, the question mark apple on the logo. But to achieve mascot status, someone would have to put on a full body question mark apple suit, and that is not likely to happen.

All of which left us searching for a suitable replacement for Mickey Boy. At least it did until last week when Sean was picking black currants and came across this handsome fellow in one of the bushes. Its a Cecropia caterpillar, and it is not just the biggest caterpillar we have ever found on the farm (it turns into the largest American moth), it is also the most remarkable looking one, with its blue and yellow and orange protuberances and blue feet. It is like a bulked up, pimped out tomato horn worm. And it showed no interest whatsoever in us even as we moved its branch around for a better view and tried prodding it with a blade of grass to get some sort of a reaction. Given its size, looks and attitude, it must be Mickey Boy reincarnated. And hence a suitable new mascot. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to finally have a farm mascot again.

Well, for the time being, because this caterpillar is already in its fifth molt and just about ready to wraps itself up in a mile of silk for the winter, and I am just not sure a cocoon cuts its as a mascot. Though perhaps as a winter mascot it would work. I had never really thought about the seasonality of mascots before, but it suddenly seems appropriate.

Vegetable note: Some years the eggplants sulk and we pick hardly anything. Some years they flourish. Apparently, this is one of those flourish years, which I think is good news.

If, for some strange reason, you are getting tired of grilled eggplant you could make eggplant mush instead. Broil or grill the eggplants whole until the skin is well charred and the flesh soft. Scoop out the flesh and mix or blend (depending on what consistency you want) with onion, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. For a slightly richer version, add cumin, pomegranate molasses and smoked paprika. Or whatever strikes your fancy, for that matter. You could also toss in diced tomato and pepper (sweet and/or hot), which makes it a little more like a salad.

Most people don’t think of cabbage as a grilling vegetable, but it is actually quite tasty grilled. Cut it into thick wedges (don’t core it, the core holds the leaves together on the grill), dunk it in salted water and brush it generously with olive oil, then grill it until it starts to char and soften a little. You can just eat it like that or chop it up and mix it other grilled vegetables or use it cold in a cole slaw, perhaps with some grilled onion and roasted pepper. You could also skip the grilling and just make cole slaw. I like it dressed with oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and hot pepper, and maybe just a little yogurt or sour cream.